I loved slowly observing the transformation of the Canadian landscapefrom coast to coast, Vancouver to Toronto (you can go the other) by traversing the country slowly by VIA Rail’s Canadian Line.
The journey itself takes only 4.5 days, but you can stretch it out for longer by hopping on and off at different locations and discovering each of the towns awesome outdoor activities!
You can ride Economy or Sleep in Luxury in your very own cabin, VIA Rail Vancouver to Toronto, or vice versa, is an incredible way to experienceCanada – especially in the winter!
I made a few errors and could have plushed up my experience, so here's a guide to make sure you have a EPIC Cross-Rail Canadian Adventure! (and it's greener form of travel too!).
WHAT TO PACK
I quickly discovered that there are many essential items to pack for a long train ride and soon realized I had very few of them...
Here's my advised list to make your journey comfortable and enjoyable.
- Carry-on bag
- Cosy, snug and comfortable clothing
- Slip on shoes (slippers, flip-flops)
- Blanket – not one too thick, as I found the heating was turned up during the evening.
- Ear plugs and eye mask
- Water bottle
- Thermoflask (and your favourite tea!)
- Entertainment and appropriate chargers (laptop, ipod, books, Kindle, podcasts) N.B. No internet or wifi!
- Playing cards, travel board games or puzzle book (Sudoku, crosswords)
HOW TO ENJOY YOUR JOURNEY
Length Of Journey Time…
The journey from Vancouver to Toronto will last approximately 4.5 to 5 days. Your journey could be lengthened depending on the weather conditions, how many times the train stops or if you decide to visit other places along the way.
Time Starts To Lose Meaning…
After the first day you feel as if you are going through a time warp, as it begins to lose all meaning. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner become arbitrary times, as the days gradually blend into one.
10 THINGS TO DO
- Explore the train: the other public carriages include the dining cart and socializing spaces. Also good for ‘exercise’.
- Spend time in the viewing carriage admiring the Canadian landscape or/and enjoying your entertainment simultaneously
- Great chance to burn through your ‘Books To Read’ List.
- Listen to podcasts, music or watch TedTalks.
- Catch up on your favorite TV Show or movies you have missed.
- Talk to your fellow passengers
- Play games with your fellow passengers e.g. Heads Up or card games
- Every chance you get, go outside: snow ball fight, explore the town, pace the train, make friends with someone with a dog.
- Take the opportunity to top-up your sleep bank account.
- Be creative: draw, colour in, write in your journal, or pretend to be Bill Bryson or Agatha Christie and write a short story!
Please Note (as I forgot!): That there is no internet or wifi on the train, so if you are planning on watching Netflix, think again, or listening to podcasts or TedTalks, download them at home!
WHAT TO EAT
No meal is included in your ticket and the dining cart is expensive (between $24-32 a meal for lunch or dinner!).
Dining Cart Meals…
The meals in the dining cart sounded delicious and would leave my mouthwatering, but I couldn’t afford them. So I am afraid I can give you no information – although gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian was not well provided for.
Preparation Is Key…
I would advise planning your breakfasts, lunches, dinners and/or snacksfor each day before you leave Toronto or Vancouver.
I made the fatal mistake of not doing this and assumed I would be able to buy food along the way. This was true for our first stop in Edmonton, but we were soon delayed by freight trains and 2-hour stops became 10 minutes.
I was VERY hungry when I arrived at Montreal!
Snacks, light meals and coffee/tea are available. If you are gluten-free it is very difficult on the train, vegans could scrape by and vegetarians should be ok. Being all of the above I could only drink the coffee (approx. $2) and the almonds!
Plant powered and gluten-free food types I would advise bringing
- For the first night or day, you could bring a home-cooked meal, such as quinoa with roast vegetables
- Organic baby food; may sound weird but these make the perfect portable snack or meal
- Rice cakes
- Vegan pate
- Tea bags
- Bottled smoothies
- Almond milk if you don’t like black tea or coffee
- Nut/Fruit bars
WHERE TO SLEEP
Depending on your budget, you can choose an economy chair for the entire journey, or travel in style with a sleeper cabin.
I travelled economy and I will say this: being naïve about lengthy train journeys, it was fun and manageable, the chairs offered some comfort. I came up with creative ways to fold myself in the chairs and make ‘beds’ out of them – luckily I had no seatmates! However, I was relieved not to be returning to Vancouver by train!
If you have the budget and are looking for comfortable, restful and more private journey, or suffer from stiffness or pain, I would highly recommendthe sleeper cabins. You will also arrive at your destination feeling rested, unlike coach passengers!
WHEN TO GO
The best time to make your journey across Canada by train will depend on the following:
- How much you are willing to spend
- What type of landscapes you want to see
- What activities you wish to participate in
Tickets are much less expensive during the off-season period (November to April), especially in economy class. I travelled through the winter, when the landscape was enchanted with snow and waterfalls frozen with ice - it was stunning.
However, I am told the summer months are just as beautiful, when the mountains and fields become alive with flowers, crops and animals.
WAYS TO SAVE
- Discounts are available to under 25 years of age and students – take advantage of these while you can!
- Rail passes are a really good way to save money on multiple journeys.
- Book in advance!
- Members of Hi Hostels receive a 12% discount.
If you have any questions or comments leave them below!